New soil bacterium discovered that degrades organic compounds including carbon

A team of researchers has discovered a new species of soil bacteria that is particularly adept at breaking down organic matter, including chemicals released from gas, coal, oil and many wastes when burned.
The discovery was made by Cornell University’s professor of microbial ecology Dan Buckley, who together with several colleagues from Lycoming College published a new study in the International Journal of Systematic and Evolutionary Microbiology.

The new bacterium, named by researchers Paraburkholderia madseniana, was isolated from forest soil and is named after Gene Madsen, a professor of microbiology who had participated in the research without being able to conclude it since he died in 2017.
The genus to which the new bacterium, Paraburkholderia, belongs is related to bacteria that are already known for their ability to degrade organic compounds.

Precisely for this reason these bacteria are interesting because they can also degrade polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a peculiarity that was also the subject of research by Buckley and colleagues.
These bacteria, therefore, could be used for the biodegradation of the carbon cycle, a cycle disrupted in recent decades precisely because of human carbon emissions.

“Soils, each year, treat about seven times more carbon than all human emissions from cars, power plants and heating systems worldwide in their natural work of decomposing plant material. Because the amount of carbon that passes through the soil is so large, small changes in the way we manage the soil could have a big impact on climate change,” explains Buckley, who wants to fully understand with his team how this bacteria breaks down soil carbon, which could be important for the sustainability of the soil itself and the future of the world’s climate in general.

Syndactyly: scientists discover that skin cells play a role

A new study conducted by researchers at the University of California focused on syndactyly, a congenital malformation that sees children born with two or more fused fingers, both in the hands and feet.
The malformation is due to insufficient removal of connective tissue when the embryo is developing.

The new study, published in Developmental Cell, shows that the skin also plays an active role. Explaining the results of the study is Ghaidaa Kashgari, researcher at the Department of Biological Chemistry of the UCI School of Medicine: “Our study identifies the epidermal development processes necessary for the separation of fingers that expand beyond the insufficient removal of connective tissue. These additional factors play a key role in syndactyly and may be implicated in other complex syndromes, including Van der Woude syndrome. Epithelial migration and non-adhesive peridermis are necessary for the separation of digits during mammalian development”.

As Bogi Andersen, professor of medicine and biological chemistry and other author of the study, explains, the GRHL3 gene is responsible for normal finger separation. If there is a mutation affecting this gene, the function of cells on the surface of the skin can be impaired causing conditions such as Van der Woude syndrome related to syndactyly.

Robotic arm inspired by octopus tentacles can grab everything

A robotic arm inspired by octopus tentacles was developed by a team of researchers from Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) and Beihang University in Beijing.
It is a robotic arm that is able to grab, move and manipulate many types of objects thanks to its suction cups and the fact that it can flex, almost twist, on itself, just like real octopus tentacles do.

The flexible tapered design means that the “arm” can have a solid grip on objects of various shapes and textures, so much so that it can also grab eggs or objects with a very delicate texture.

As August Domel, one of the authors of the robotic arm study, published in Soft Robotics, explains: “Our research is the first to quantify the tapering angles of the arms and the combined functions of bending and suction, which allows you to use a single small grip for a wide range of objects that would otherwise require the use of multiple grips”.

The secret of the robotic arm, inspired by the octopus tentacle, lies in its suction cups, true vacuum-based biomimetic vacuum cleaners that can basically stick to any surface.
The robotic arm, called the Festo Tentacle Gripper, represents the first integrated implementation of such a technology, based on suction cups inspired by octopus suction cups, in a commercial prototype.

Sounds and visual effects of slot machines increase desire to play

A study carried out by researchers at the University of Alberta focused on how the various sound or visual modes of slot machines can increase the appeal of these games and substantially induce gambling.
The result was perhaps predictable: all those little lights and sounds that these machines emit only increase the desire to play again.

For games like this, and especially LED screens, it’s been said that blue light blocking glasses can have an adverse effect on health.

The study was conducted by Marcia Spetch, a researcher at the Department of Psychology, who immediately makes it clear that this also applies to virtual slot machines, those that can be found on the Internet and which have become very popular in recent years.
Among the most “attractive” or “bewitching” sounds there are those of coins and among the images that of the dollar symbol.

All these features also make the winnings, when they happen, more “memorable”, as the researcher herself explains: “Such signals are prevalent in casinos and probably increase the appeal of slot machine gambling”.
In addition, the same researchers found that the subjects they experimented on preferred to play on slot machines that were richer in these signals and sounds, regardless of the machine’s risk level and when these sounds or visual effects appeared.

“People should be aware that their attraction and sense of victory can be biased,” explains Christopher Madan, researcher at the University of Nottingham and other author of the study, published in the journal Addiction .

Links:

Blue light blocking glasses

Data centers consume less energy than thought according to new models

Very often when we talk about electricity consumption we mention the data centers, essential centers for the functioning of the Internet itself. According to a new study produced by researchers from various institutes, however, data centers can no longer be cited as one of the main causes of the growing consumption of electricity in the world because in recent years there have been very important improvements in the efficiency of these systems.

The models that researchers have calculated, in fact, reveal that, although the data centers themselves have increased in number in the world, in the last 10 years the power consumption would have remained almost unchanged.
This can be explained by the continuous improvements in the efficiency of the data centres themselves, both as regards the computers themselves and the cooling systems.

Of course, this does not mean that the information technology industry and policy makers can “rest on their laurels”, as Eric Masanet, one of the authors of the study, explains: “We believe that the remaining efficiency potential is sufficient to last several more years. But the growing demand for data means that everyone, including policy makers, data center operators, equipment manufacturers and data consumers, must step up their efforts to avoid a possible increase in power consumption at the end of this decade.

The study, published in Science , made use of various data from various sources, including data on market developments in the data centre and server sector.
The researchers concluded that the efficiency gains in recent years are much greater than those observed in other sectors of the global economy.

An aphid-eating beetle could save the North American spruce

The Tsuga canadensis, also known as North American spruce or Canadian Hemlock or Eastern Hemlock, is a native tree of North America, widespread in the northern United States and especially in Canada. It is a giant evergreen tree which, with its numerous foliage and branches, makes, among other things, a habitat for many species of birds, insects and many other animals.

Unfortunately, since the 1980s, these trees have been under attack from the woolly adelgida of hemlock (Adelges tsugae), a small aphid native to Japan, which does nothing but suck sugar from the needles of this tree. They can be so numerous that they can cause the death of a massive tree tens of meters high. To fight these aphids, researchers have thought well to use one of its predators, a beetle that they first bred and then released in the forests.

During a five-year study, the results of which were published in Biological Control, researchers monitored the effects of this predator on the aphids that are decimating the population of Tsuga canadensis in Canada and obtained positive results. It is mainly the beetle of the Laricobius nigrinus species, an insect the size of a grain of rice, that is crucial: it hunts adelgid eggs as well as its larvae for food.

Researchers have released several hundred thousand of these beetles at certain sites where Tsuga canadensis trees are present and have noticed that the tree populations themselves are starting to take hold again. Of course, when using techniques like this, which see the large-scale use of predators to supplant a species, there is always the risk of obtaining undesirable results, especially in cases like this where a species that is considered alien and could eventually become invasive is used.

And that’s exactly what the researchers are evaluating before starting a real mass release. The same researchers are also thinking of producing “hybrids” by making these beetles be combined with other endemic beetles from the forests where the Tsuga canadensis are present.

A bacterial strain was found which caused a plague epidemic in Europe in the 14th century

A group of researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Human History Science conducted various analyses of the genomes of the remains of people who lived from the 14th to the 17th century to find out where the strain of Yersinia pestis appeared, which caused a severe and widespread plague epidemic that shook Europe in the 14th century, an epidemic nicknamed Black Death.

The epidemic killed more than 60% of Europe’s population and spread very widely from the Black Sea to Central Europe. According to historians, the first traces of the first symptoms of the disease can be found in time in 1346 and geographically in the territory connected with the Volga region in Russia.

However, it has not been possible to understand whether the pandemic was caused by a single bacterial source or was introduced into Europe from several sources, such as travelers. After a genomic analysis of 34 human remains buried in 10 different places in Europe, from Russia to France, researchers found that the first traces of the pandemic appeared in the city of Laishevo, Volga region of Russia.

The remains found in this area indicate the presence of a “generic” strain of Yersinia pestis compared to all other analyzed genomes, which differed only by a single mutation, allowing plague to spread throughout Europe.

It is not yet possible to understand whether this strain can be considered “zero” in absolute terms, since the same strain can be obtained from other regions, such as Asia.

However, once the plague had begun to spread in Europe, it was one strain that caused it to spread, and researchers believe that this was what was found in Laishevo, which then probably spread through rodents.

The researchers noted a certain lack of genetic diversity in the timing of plague spread and the low diversity of the epidemic itself after the first appearance of bacteria from Eastern Europe.

Links:

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-019-12154-0

Lead levels in the blood during pregnancy that are too high can cause obesity in the child

Lead levels that are too high in the blood may be associated with increased chances of pregnant women having children who may be overweight or obese in childhood, according to a study published in the public domain of the JAMA network.

A team of researchers led by Xiaobin Wang, a researcher at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Baltimore School of Public Health, used data from 1,442 women and their children. Blood was taken from these women and lead levels were analyzed 24-72 hours after birth.

The children are then periodically analyzed for weight in childhood. When they were 8.1 years old on average, children born to mothers with higher levels of lead in their blood were four times more likely to be overweight or obese.

This risk was reduced if the same women with high levels of lead in their blood showed sufficient folic acid, again for the blood taken 24-72 hours after birth. According to researchers, folic acid can be useful for pregnant women who have too high levels of lead in their blood.

Links:

https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/nih-funded-study-suggests-high-lead-levels-during-pregnancy-linked-child-obesity

https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamanetworkopen/fullarticle/2752083

Cannabidiol gel reduces seizures in children

Cannabidiol gel can be useful as a contrast weapon to reduce the incidence of seizures in children with severe epilepsy, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of Otago, New Zealand, and the University of Melbourne, Australia.

This gel can be applied to the skin as a transdermal agent and can reduce seizures in children with severe epilepsy. This is what the researchers saw during the trials, when they noticed a 58% reduction in the number of seizures between the second and sixth month of treatment.

These experiments were conducted in Wellington and Melbourne in 48 children suffering from development and epileptic encephalopathy. Lynette Sadler, one of the researchers involved in these studies, clearly recognizes that this new product “gives new hope” to all children and adolescents suffering from severe seizures.

According to the researcher, treatment with cannabidiol gel not only reduced the number of epileptic seizures, but also improved behavioral and cognitive symptoms in children. This is also well-tolerated.

Links:

https://www.otago.ac.nz/news/news/otago719319.html

Peru’s tropical glaciers are melting at an alarming rate

A new alarming alarm about melting ice is also coming from the tropical glaciers of the Peruvian Andes, which, according to new research in the cryosphere, are melting very quickly. A study group from Friedrich-Alexander-University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU) estimated that glaciers in the area would shrink by almost 30% between 2000 and 2016.

Almost all tropical glaciers are concentrated in Peru, where 92% of its territory is covered by ice in all tropics of the country. Glaciers in these regions form at altitudes greater than 4,000 meters, but are very sensitive to climate variability and change, even more so than Arctic glaciers.

For example, since the 1980s, the Andean glaciers that make up the so-called Cordillera Blanca have melted at a faster rate. Researcher Thorsten Zehaus of the FAU Institute of Geography analyzed various satellite data from Landsat missions and found that 29% of glaciers retreated from 2000 to 2016. Since 1973, even 170 glaciers have disappeared, an area roughly comparable to that of 80,000 football fields.

Moreover, the rate of glacier melting between 2013 and 2016 is four times faster than in previous years, indicating that this melting is increasing in recent years. In particular, there has been a high level of activity in recent years in the El Niño phenomenon, where water currents in the equatorial Pacific Ocean have led to higher temperatures and reduced precipitation in Peruvian Andean regions.

The retreat of glaciers of this magnitude may also increase the risk of the destruction of natural dams and, consequently, flooding. In the Cordillera Blanca region alone, 25,000 people have already died as a result of such disasters between 1941 and 2003, and more are expected to occur in the coming years.

According to new experiments, polystyrene can decompose over centuries, not millennia

We have always heard that polystyrene, one of the world’s most widely used plastics, has not been decomposed for thousands of years and may, therefore, be a major pollutant.

However, a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology Letters shows that if polystyrene is exposed to sunlight, it can “confuse” it in shorter time frames, from decades to centuries.

Polystyrene or polystyrene is now used in many areas, in expanded forms, especially in packaging, but also in non-foam form for the construction of many facilities, from disposable razors to CD cases.

It cannot be degraded by any microbe and, above all, this aspect has forced scientists to evaluate, if not conservatively, its duration over millennia. It seems that a new study by Colin Ward and his colleagues at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution has reduced this limit.

The researchers conducted an experiment by placing five samples of polystyrene in water, which is widely available on the market. They then subjected these parts of the modeling of sunlight three times brighter than the same sunlight that beats at the equator to speed up the simulation time.

The researchers found that this simulated light partially oxidized all the samples, turning some of them into organic carbon. According to researchers, the same process could take decades in the natural environment and at latitudes ranging from 0° to 50°N (mainly from the equator to the upper boundary of the United States).

Therefore, scientists are estimating a period of time that will take centuries, not millennia, for complete degradation.

Researchers believe that this limit can be further reduced by playing with the amount and quality of additives commonly found in polystyrene. With new technologies, these additives can be easily controlled in the future.

Epilepsy: new test reveals “dishonest brain waves”

A new test, which detects “unauthorized brain waves,” can help people with epilepsy to better understand which area of the patient’s brain they need surgery in.

The test was developed by a team of researchers from the Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies), a department of Aston University. The test can help to determine in advance and with a certain degree of precision which brain area is the epileptogenic zone, i.e. one that causes an epileptic attack.

The special technique used by Aston researchers uses magnetoencephalograms to study brain waves to intercept abnormal electrical discharges in patients with epilepsy and to determine the areas of the brain that cause seizures.

Among the convulsions, there are actually short episodes of brain activity in the form of electrical discharges or “peaks”. A better understanding of these “peaks” can help surgeons understand where to operate better.

The results have been published in the Journal of Neuroscience.

Links:

https://medicalxpress.com/news/2019-10-rogue-epilepsy-seizure-brain-zones.html

https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1741-2552/ab225e

Artificial bowel for human microbial testing created by MIT researchers

As proof that intestinal microbiomes are becoming increasingly important in the scientific and biomedical fields, a team of researchers at the Lincoln Laboratory of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is implementing a new project to create what the press release calls the “ideal artificial intestine.”

Today, in fact, many studies of the intestine, and especially the trillion bacteria in it, cannot be done because it is impossible to test on a model that looks like a real analogue. Artificial platforms, which today imitate the human intestines, are not actually accurate and are not cheap at all. This means that many laboratories cannot afford it.

MIT researchers are trying a new way: they will try to mimic, at least in part, the great complexity of the human intestines, including all those conditions that must be present to survive and test bacterial samples. Growing a microbiomal sample and keeping it alive in a laboratory is a feat that no one has yet been able to accomplish, reminds David Walsh of the Group of Biological and Chemical Technologies, one of the scientists who led this group.

They have already built a platform of permeable silicone rubber with various parts made of other plastics, including polystyrene, all relatively inexpensive and easily manufactured.
The platform is based on oxygen and other slime control components, another important element that allows bacteria to reproduce in the intestine.

“The final system will allow us to face real-world problems,” says Walsh himself, who suggests that this new system will allow us to take new steps forward and to understand the strong connection between the intestine itself and the brain.

Links:

http://news.mit.edu/2019/artificial-gut-aims-to-expose-human-microbiome-1003

New contact lenses give medication for days, even at the back of the retina.

A new step forward has been taken with regard to contact lenses that can release medication, which is a very promising alternative that can replace the discomfort of daily eye drops.

A team of researchers from Massachusetts Children’s Eye and Ear Hospital and Boston Children’s Hospital have developed contact lenses that can vaccinate medications even in the back of the retina, which is the most difficult to access but still needs treatment in the context of various retinal diseases.

Currently, eye injections or implants are used to treat this internal area of the retina – two methods which, unfortunately, have side effects. Furthermore, the patient’s fear of the needle should never be underestimated.

The new contact lenses presented in the biomaterials study have already been tested by researchers who used them to deliver the dexamethasone steroid used in inflammation to the back of some animals.

In these tests, the lenses showed that they could safely ensure prolonged retinal administration for a week with the same degree of efficacy as eye injections. Now the researchers hope to conduct the first tests in humans.

Links:

http://discoveries.childrenshospital.org/drug-eluting-contact-lenses

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0142961219303849?via%3Dihub